Jonathan Gruber is right. The American people are stupid. But not all Americans.
Take the President’s much recently heralded “climate change” agreement with China as an example.
Al Gore says that the joint announcement “demonstrates a serious commitment” to combating global warming.
Brad Plumer at Vox says, ”This is a significant shift in climate politics — and possibly a first step toward a broader global climate agreement.”
James West at Mother Jones enthusiastically announces, “The announcement between the two biggest emitters deals a blow to the oft-stated rhetoric that the US must wait for China before bringing domestic climate legislation.”
The Washington Post’s Stephen Stromberg gushes, that this “landmark agreement . . . does not merely commit the countries to trajectories they are already taking. It will require both nations to push harder toward cleaner energy.
According to these reports, the agreement with China was, what one Vox headline writer called, a BFD.
But was it? What exactly was agreed to?
Nothing actually. The United States and China both made non-binding pledges to reduce greenhouse gasses. However, neither side agreed to an enforcement mechanism. There is no treaty agreeement to be submitted to the Senate for ratification. There are no laws that Congress will consider. There are not even any proposed steps that the EPA could take.
Not everyone was fooled by the Administration’s announcement and the breathless fawning of his media sycophants. RedState’s Erick Erickson nailed it: ”Like so much of President Obama’s decisions over the past six years, this is another photo-op with a compliant press that does not matter and will do little.” David Harsanyi says that “there are two problems with treating the deal as big news. 1) We’re not really doing anything we weren’t going to do anyway. 2) Neither is China.” Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) called it a “non-binding charade”.
If you understand anything about the American Constitutional system and have any inkling about the current political situation in Washington you must conclude that Inhofe is right. This entire hullabaloo is a charade. International agreements can only receive the imprimatur of law by being subjected to Senate ratification requiring a two-thirds agreement. Now that the new Senate will contain only 46 Democrats, this would require that 21 Republicans join all Democrats. In fact, there isn’t even a treaty for submission to the ratification process. And the last one (Kyoto) was never submitted, because then-President Clinton knew it would fail. Laws restricting carbon consumption must go through the House that is more Republican than at any time since Calvin Coolidge was still alive. The Supreme Court has already limited what the EPA can do without additional authorizations from Congress–which is not going to happen at least before the end of the Obama Presidency.
So any objective reading of the recently announced agreement between China and the United States should be met with no more than a shrug. President Obama can announce anything he likes, but without a valid enforcement mechanism, it’s just words.
But let us get back to Gruber who called it “the stupidity of the American voter” who could easily be misled by promises grounded in economic lies and obscured by a lack of civics knowledge. That worked to get Obamacare passed, and it apparently is working in getting the Left thrilled about the President’s war on carbon. But it is not all of the American voters who are so easily duped. It apparently is only the stupidity of the President’s supporters who are so easily misled by words without substance.
In other words, the Left might want to keep in mind that Jonathan Gruber wasn’t calling all Americans stupid. He was calling the President’s supporters stupid.
If you like wonky political analysis, Dan “Baseball Crank” McLaughlin has an excruciatingly detailed look at what the historical record portends for the 2016 political landscape.
McLaughlin’s conclusion based on evaluating every presidential election since the American Civil War is that a party that enjoys presidential incumbency for eight straight years almost always sees a drop-off in support in the following election. While this isn’t an earth-shattering result–almost all political analysts recognize that after two successful elections, it is very hard to win a third–McLaughlin shows that the mathematics behind this phenomenon are nearly unanimous. Even when parties do win third elections (FDR in 1940, and George H W Bush in 1988, for example), there is a pronounced drop-off in the amount of support that the incumbent party gets compared to the previous election’s results.
While I urge you to read the article, that’s not what this post is about. Instead, I saw something in one of McLaughlin’s charts that has caused me to question a bit of conventional wisdom that I have always before accepted.
Conventional wisdom holds that higher voter turnout favors Democrats over Republicans. So take a look at this chart from McLaughlin’s analysis. What this shows is the total presidential vote count for each party as well as the total number of voting eligible age non-voters from 1980 to 2012.Look at the blue line for Democrats. Aside from 2008 it is remarkably steady. So steady, in fact, that with an R-squared of .978, a Democratic candidate for president can expect to receive 3.87 million more votes than the Democratic nominee did four years before. Again, aside from 2008, in the last ten presidential elections, the Democratic nominee never over or underperformed this projection by more than 2.2 million votes. I’ve reproduced just the Republican and Democratic data below and added the linear trend that is fitted to 1980-2012 Democratic vote totals except for the outlier year of 2008.
In 2008 Barack Obama overperformed the trend line by an astounding 8.5 million votes as he turned out an anomalously large number of youth, minorities, and independents. Four years later, Obama overperformed the Democratic trend by a mere 1.1 million votes, a much more historically normal result.
Now look at the red line for the number of Republican votes. It is all over the place. In 1984 and 1988, when Democratic performance was almost exactly in line with the historical trend, Republicans outdistanced them by 17 million and 7 million votes. In 1992 and 1996, when Democrats only slightly underperformed their trend, Republicans fell woefully short by 6 million and 8 million votes.
Wondering how far back the trend line goes, I plotted the same data for all post-war presidential elections. Prior to 1980 there is more Democratic variability than in subsequent years, but the extreme linearity of the trend disappears at least before 1972. (If we consider, back to 1972, the 1976 election joins the 2008 election as an outlier. These two elections, Carter’s post-Watergate election and the first election with a black man on the ballot, might indicate that modern Democrats have very little independent or cross-over appeal, and that when it does occur, it happens only as a result of an uncommon circumstance.)
What’s interesting about the period between 1972 and 1980 when this pattern appears to have established itself is that this was the time when the Democratic Party completed its realignment. Previously it had been a coalition of geographies: white Southerners and urban Northern Catholics. Bouncing in and out of the Democratic coalition before then were Midwestern farmers, Northern Protestants, and blacks.
What has changed since is that the Democratic coalition is now almost entirely demographically based and includes nearly all black voters, a solid majority of Hispanics, and a steady percentage of women. Aside from these groups, there is very little bouncing in and out of the Democratic coalition since the 1970s. Again, with the exception of 2008 when Barack Obama greatly expanded his party’s vote before it collapsed back to its normal self four years later, the only growth Democrats have seen over the last four decades looks to be entirely dependent on the population growth of its constituencies.
Of course, many Democratic pundits and strategists would take comfort from such a conclusion. After all, at least one portion of the Democratic triad (Hispanics) is growing faster than the general rate of population growth. (McLaughlin addresses this point in another post here.)
On the other hand, the record of the last ten elections indicates that Republicans have far more upside potential, having bested the Democratic trend line by five million or more votes on four occasions. Democrats have never beaten that same trend by even half that amount except for once.
Of course, Republicans have also far underperformed the Democratic trendline. In 1992 and then again in 1996 voters who might have voted Republican either didn’t vote or voted for H. Ross Perot, and in 2012 a milquetoast Mitt Romney couldn’t even manage the Republican vote total amassed eight years before when the country’s population was nearly 20 million people fewer.
Sean Trende has made this point before:
” . . . census data and exit polls reveal that some 6 million white voters opted to sit out [the 2012] election. The data show these non-voters were not primarily Southerners or evangelicals, but were located in Northeast, Midwest and Southwest. Mainly, they fit the profile of “Reagan Democrats” or, more recently, a Ross Perot supporter. For these no-shows, Mitt Romney was not a natural fit.”
Less hitched to demography, Republicans are a coalition of ideas that in some years have more or less overlap and appeal than in other years and are more or less represented by a particular nominee.
In other words, the electorate includes really only two types of people: reliable Democrats who always vote no matter the nominee, and potential voters who will almost never vote Democrat but might vote Republican if their nominee can persuade them. Furthermore the number of the latter vastly exceeds the former. While in most years Democrats achieve a very predictable result based almost entirely on the mechanics of population growth, this raw political landscape allows Republicans the opportunity to enjoy earth-shattering landslides when it chooses well, or to suffer soul-crushing defeats when it does not.
And that brings us back to the question of turnout. The conventional wisdom is that because the Democrat’s voter base includes groups with historically lower turnout rates, they are the ones to benefit from higher turnout. However, the record of the last forty years places nearly the entire burden for victory on the ability of the GOP presidential nominee to excite that portion of the electorate that was never going to show up to vote for the Democrat anyway.
Given the continued existence of Guantanamo, the expanded wars in the Middle East, not to mention, expanded war powers at home, it shouldn’t be surprising that once again Barack Obama has chosen George W. Bush as his role model.
This is the 2004 election all over again. An embattled incumbent struggles with his popularity due to the perception that he has badly bungled the nation’s most important crisis, albeit one that wasn’t his fault since he inherited it shortly after taking office. The perception is reinforced by the Presidents’ focus on issues thought to be tangential to the central crisis. In 2004 it was the opinion that the war against al Qaeda was the big issue while an unnecessary war in Iraq was a poorly planned fiasco that made the real problem worse. Today the issue is jobs, while the generally accepted view is that the two-year-long focus on a health insurance program was both distracting and counterproductive. Furthermore, this week’s Democratic convention shows that Obama’s re-election platform is vintage Bush: The incumbent promises four more years of the same. Only, instead of more troops and more money, it’s more spending and more money
On the challenger side we have parallels with 2004 as well. Both are unsympathetic rich men from Massachusetts whose past includes prominence in the arena of the central crisis where the incumbent has demonstrated none. It was Silver Star awardee John Kerry eight years ago and it is successful businessman Mitt Romney today. Even their foibles are similar. The etch-a-sketch metaphor for Mitt Romney is a virtual replica of John Kerry’s wind-surfing video. Meanwhile it’s hard not to hear echoes of “I was for it before I was against it” whenever today’s challenger tries to explain away his former support for statist health care. Even the vice presidential challengers are similar: youngish white men from long-shot, though still competitive states, and whose experience appeals to their party’s base: trial lawyers in 2004 and budget cutters today.
But there are differences. In 2004 George W. Bush didn’t have the luxury of being able to lose a few votes and still win re-election. He won the Presidency the first time around by the slimmest of electoral margins and actually lost the popular vote. Bush needed to pick up voters and states to win a second term. Barack Obama can still win even if he drops a point or two from his previous result and loses a few states he once won.
Still, that should offer the current incumbent little comfort. His campaign has lost electoral votes due to redistricting and has already conceded Indiana. North Carolina, which he barely won by 5,000 votes four years ago, is also all but gone. As for constituencies, there are many where Obama has lost support. Young voters support him in smaller numbers this time and appear far less enthusiastic than they did before. There is a real risk that the Democrat will fall under 50% with non-governmental labor voters. Additionally, polls continue to indicate slippage with Hispanics, Jews, and Muslims. As for blacks, exit polls four years ago indicated a level of support that was within the margin of error of 100%. There is no upside left. Joe Biden’s “chains” remark was calculated to ensure that blacks came out to vote in numbers matching 2008’s levels so that Democrats don’t lose those numbers.
Even more alarming to the Obama Campaign should be his overall standing in the polls. Since July his approval ratings have stayed below 50%. Eight years before George W. Bush dropped only once below that level in the last four months before the race.
Confronted with similar challenges, Obama looks to have employed Karl Rove’s plan: highlight social wedge issues to drive up his level of support among a large constituency generally predisposed in his favor. Bush targeted Evangelical Christians; Obama bases his reelection campaign on getting even greater support from childless women. And the central argument by which Obama means to make his case to women is abortion. To me, it appears to be an argument that is both patronizing and simplistic.
I’ve spent the last few months in Germany where, true to the stereotype, outdated American pop culture rules. Yes, David Hasselhoff is still popular here, as evidenced by the fact that his 60th birthday two months ago was a leading story in the German news. One fifteen-year old song currently making the rounds over here is Meredith Brooks’ Nothing In Between. “I’m a bitch, I’m a lover, I’m a child, I’m a mother, I’m a sinner, I’m a saint . . . ” she refrains again and again. Though somewhat crudely, she makes the rather obvious point that, just like men, women are complex beings irreducible to a single description or category.
But Obama has chosen a view of women opposite that of Ms. Brooks. To today’s Democrat, if you have a uterus, you must vote blue. Code Pink metaphorically represents this strategy. Dressed in giant vagina costumes, they have reduced womanhood to an organ. Yes, I find it more than a little ironic that the transgendered part of the GLBT community overwhelmingly aligns itself with the party that wants to categorize people solely on the basis of their plumbing.
We saw evidence of the Democrats’ strategy over and over in Charlotte where seemingly every speaker highlighted abortion. If Republicans are the party of God (and they are not), it’s as if Democrats have purposefully chosen to be the anti-God—even to the extent that they willfully created the spectacle of their rancor over any reference to God in their platform.
So now that both parties’ conventions are over we have the script for the next two months. Republicans have consolidated their base around deficit reduction while they attempt to win over independents with a focus on jobs that they say Obama has mistakenly ignored. Democrats meanwhile propose more of the same to fix the economy, while they focus on demonizing Romney and attempt to frighten its most ardent supporters into maximizing their turnout. It’s a plan that has a chance of working. Romney, like Kerry, has just enough deficiencies that he very well could lose to an unpopular president.
But it’s a plan with great risks. One difference from eight years ago is that today there are now roughly twice as many independent voters. Throughout 2004 those unsure whether or not they approved or disapproved of the incumbent hovered between three and six percent. This year opinion polls show that between six and nine percent of respondents are unsure about the president. These are undecided voters whom Romney has courted and Obama has ignored. The Democratic convention made clear that Obama isn’t trying to win their support so much as he wants to make Mitt Romney unpalatable.
Another risk is in the medium to long term. For one thing, building your organization’s core message around the childless isn’t exactly a model likely to yield inter-generational success. Secondly, pinning your party’s hopes on the most vocal advocates of a highly controversial social issue, when there is near universal agreement that other issues are more important, gives your party’s megaphone to those who are both extreme and irrelevant. Sandra Fluke is this year’s Terri Schiavo. For every already-Democrat she inspires to vote, she turns off at least one independent for the crime of insulting them by ignoring larger issues. Karl Rove’s plan to drive up Evangelical turnout in 2004, while it worked then, gave rise four years later to Mike Huckabee, who is perhaps the most demagogic and dangerous major presidential candidate to have run for office since William Jennings Bryan beclowned himself and his party in the late 19th century. It should have taken years for the GOP to disassociate its reputation from Huckabee’s form of Evangelical theocracy. Except now it appears that Democrats look ready to rush into their own version of anti-First-Amendment totalitarianism that, instead of forcing adherence to religious views, forces opposition to them. Most Americans hate both extremes of this tangential debate. If Obama does win, you can be sure that the most extreme pro-abortion voices will shriek even louder in 2016. That can’t be good for Democrats.
Returning to poll numbers, the President’s strategy appears to me to be less likely to work now than it did for Bush in 2004. Bush straddled 50% support almost throughout 2004. If you’ve got half the vote, you can afford to focus your efforts on turning out your base. Barack Obama almost never sees poll numbers that high. Particularly among likely voters, this President is mired around 46 to 48 percent. Coupled with 2008’s remarkably high turnout among usually low turnout youth and minorities, it’s hard to see him hitting 50%.
But give Obama points for consistency. After 2010’s complete Democratic collapse in the worst mid-term congressional landslide in at least a generation, there was much speculation that Obama would, like Bill Clinton before him, pivot to the center. He did not and still does not. Refusing to offer any significant legislation where he could meet Republicans on common ground, he has staked his future on the past two years of no accomplishments while he stokes his party’s disdain for the other side. I think that it is a strategy destined to fail.
But if he succeeds? I suspect that we’ll see yet one more Obama-Bush parallel: a slim-majority reelection of a mediocre president whose own party’s second-term support dissipates in the absence of an electoral challenge.
I can’t imagine why the managers of Swiss banks might want the United States to remain on the economic path they’re on.
I’m sure they’re just being altruistic.
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza writes today that the currently unfolding scandals at the General Services Administration and the U.S. Secret Service may threaten the Obama presidency. Cillizza contends that the scandals visibly demonstrate President Obama’s competency problem. He’s right, of course. However, depending on how Mitt Romney frames the issue, he may himself face the same problem when he is the incumbent running for re-election in four years.
It’s often been said that conservatives don’t believe in the power of big government to compently solve big problems. True. And in 2005 Republicans went about proving incompetence by not solving the problems presented by Hurricane Katrina. The American people, of course, weren’t happy about that. So they elected a guy who made competency one of his “central pillars.”
After almost four years the results of the President’s competency are in:
Cash for clunkers used taxpayer dollars to subsidize wealthy car buyers who brought forward their purchases from the future, precipitating a huge decline in auto sales after the program’s end . . . just as the program’s critics said that it would.
Three years after the $800 billion stimulus plan, the unemployment rate has now ”fallen” to a level that is higher than the Presdident said it would ever get if we passed the stimulus package . . . just as the plan’s critics said it would.
Obamacare really doesn’t expand coverage while reducing costs (Duh) but actually increases costs and incentivized companies to cancel their employees’ health plans . . . just as the plan’s critics said it would.
Appeasing Iran, “resetting” the tone with Russia, intervening in Libya, promoting an overthrow in Egypt, encouraging indebtedness in Germany, and giving the finger to our two closest allies (Canada and the UK) have *surprisingly* resulted in a less stable world . . . just as the President’s critics said it would.
I could go on, but it would be redundant. For a man who promised competency, President Obama sure seems to have the anti-Midas effect: everything he touches turns to into a lead balloon that crashes into the ground.
The difficulty for Mitt Romney is that if he tries to reinflate hope, as Cillizza suggest when he says that the Republican should frame himself as “the ultimate turnaround artist,” he will himself fail. The central problem is not that Barack Obama is incompetent–he is, spectacularly so–however, the crux is that government, by its very nature, is incompetent.
One principle of organizational design is that the larger the organization is, the fewer the levers available to control it. And there is no organization in the history of Planet Earth so large as the United States government. President Obama has no responsibility for million dollar Vegas boondoggles or Colombian brothel visits, because no one man could possibly exercise the span of control required to prevent those kinds of occurrences in an organization so vast as the United States government. Just those two agencies alone are monstrously large enough: the Secret Service’s more than 4,000 agents are positioned around the entire globe, while the GSA has nearly 20-times the number of employees and 20-times the budget of Cillizza’s Washington Post. And yet, within the grand Washington scheme of things, the GSA and the Secret Service are minor players. Combined, they are well under one percent of the federal budget. So insignificant are they that I would be surprised if, before the scandals erupted, the President even knew the names of the agencies’ directors.
Government at all levels is always inefficient and is often ineffective. Just go to a local school board meeting if you don’t believe me. There you are likely to find well-meaning, but mediocre leadership that is burdened by innumerable and conflicting constraints imposed by the necessity of being all things to all people. Multiply that local confusion by several orders of magnitude and you have Washington, DC.
President Mitt Romney is incapable of leading the federal government competently becasue government by its very nature is incapable of achieving a level of competence that rises to a level that would be acceptable in the private sector. The best that we can hope for is that new leadership in Washington can reduce the level of incompetence. And the only way to do that is to reduce the size and scope of Washington.
UPDATE: The Hill is essentially running the same story that the GSA and SS Scandals hurt the Obama competence meme.
I promised last week to discuss Sarah Palin and why some people are fascinated, repulsed, and generally obsessed with her. Well, don’cha know, that witty ol’ Iowahawk just went ahead and wrote my piece for me. That was mighty neighborly of him. And he is far too humble, limitin’ himself to the notion that Homunculus Sarah Palin lives only in lib’ruls heads. No siree, she’s alive and well in the heads of a lot of Republicans too. I ‘magine sometimes even without the bikini.
[Barack Obama's supporters] believed the Bush-to-Obama transition would be reminiscent of the Carter-to-Reagan change, where an unsuccessful administration, widely perceived as a failure, would be followed by a saving-grace leader, who in time is vindicated by history. . . But here’s the catch: Reagan broke sharply from Carter’s worst policies. Obama is intensifying Bush’s.
Read the whole thing.
Since every great political movement needs a bumper sticker slogan substitutable for actual thought, here’s one that capitalizes on the language increasingly coming from Washington these days.
“Bush did it too.”
Memorable, short, and to the point. The acronym “BDIT” has the added bonus of being pronounceable, unlike that unwieldy “WWJD” I see on the backs of jalopies in the less fashionable neighborhoods of some of those backward states.
So if you’re tired of having to justify to your conservative friends how it’s different when President Obama fills his staff with former lobbyists? Don’t bother. Just “BDIT.” Or when President Obama signs a bill that no one on his staff or on Capitol Hill has read, simply shut Republicans up with their awkward memory of the passage of the Patriot Act, when you respond “BDIT.” It’s a phrase that works great in any number of situations: Guantanamo, shafting injured veterans, the national debt–all kinds of potential unpleasantness is easily avoided when you remind Republicans that President Obama is exactly the same as Bush. And isn’t that what real change is all about?
Plus, BDIT, pronounced Bee-Dit, sounds just like “beat it,” which is what we’d really like to tell those red state knuckle-draggers. “Beat it,” as in, “Enough already with all that principled opposition; we won god damnit!”
Which, come to think of it, would make a great bumper sticker too: “WWGD.” Too bad you can’t pronounce it.
Victor Davis Hanson excoriates the Bush apologists . . . or something like that.
Read the whole thing.
Now it’s a bumper sticker!